A Time of Decision in Ireland

A momentous decision is looming in Ireland. They have a choice between life and death. Once made, there will likely be no going back.

At issue is a referendum on May 25th that would repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.  The amendment currently guarantees the right to life for the unborn child and ensures equal legal protection to both the mother and the unborn child. It reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This is a humane and sensible expression of the natural moral law that every human life deserves to be protected in law, and that no life is more valuable than another.

The amendment was originally adopted by referendum in 1983, with an approval vote of almost 67%. One would have thought that the matter was settled, but that wouldn’t account for the relentless pressure of pro-abortion organizations in Europe and elsewhere. Ireland has been consistently targeted by pro-abortion groups, who cannot stand the notion that a nation in the supposedly enlightened West could possibly believe that an unborn human being has human rights and deserves legal protection.

They have pushed forward other referenda that have weakened the 8th Amendment by guaranteeing the right to travel for an abortion (which primarily means to the UK, which has very liberal laws) and the right to receive information about foreign abortions. Other referenda to expand abortion were defeated. Advocates have turned to the courts, and won decisions that guaranteed the right to an abortion if the mother’s life was in danger — but the court included the notion of a risk of suicide, which just invites cynical manipulation by the amoral abortion industry to create a de facto right to abortion on demand.

They have now pressed the issue with this referendum, which would repeal the 8th amendment and permit the government to enact legislation regulating abortion.

This point is essential to remember. The referendum isn’t the only thing at stake here. The pending legislation is what ultimately matters the most, because it shows what repeal will really mean  to unborn Irish children. The government has released the bill that it proposes to enact if the 8th Amendment is repealed. It is a radical bill that would give Ireland among the most liberal abortion laws in Europe, and arguably as liberal as the United States. The bill would allow abortion:

  • Prior to 12 weeks for any reason;
  • Prior to viability “when there is a risk to the life of, or of serious harm to the health of, the pregnant woman”;
  • At any time when “there is an immediate risk to the life of, or of serious harm to the health of, the pregnant woman”; and
  • At any time when “there is present a condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before birth or shortly after birth”.

The bill defines “health” as “physical or mental health”, without any further specificity. The courts in Ireland, or subsequent legislation, could easily interpret “mental health” as broadly as our Supreme Court has interpreted the term “health”. This means that the bill could legalize abortion on demand at least prior to viability and it could also open the door to abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy. And nobody could possibly believe that the pro-abortion advocates will ultimately be satisfied with any limits — as we’ve seen here in the US, they countenance no limits on abortion, no matter how reasonable.

The campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment is supported by the Irish Prime Minister, most of the major political parties, and major Irish and international abortion rights organizations (such as Amnesty International). Prominent celebrities such as Liam Neeson and U2 have come out in favor of repeal. The traditional media (print, television and radio) are very heavily in favor of repeal — they have been notably biased against the opponents and have even frozen them out of advertising and news coverage. None of this should surprise us here in the United States, since we face the same monolithic opposition of our supposed betters in the media and government.

The pro-life effort opposing repeal is a real David v. Goliath battle. It is led by the major pro-life organizations, particularly the Pro-Life Campaign (using the slogan “Love Both”) and the Life Institute ( “Save the 8th”). The Irish Bishops’ Conference, as well as dozens of individual bishops, have issued strong and eloquent statements urging a “no” vote, but their influence has been badly damaged by past scandals. No major political party has come out in opposition to repeal. That is a truly remarkable and tragic state of affairs — not a single major Irish political organization is willing to defend unborn children.

The campaign for repeal is generally considered to be far better funded than the anti-repeal campaign. Both Google and Facebook have suspended any advertisements about the referendum, which will unduly hurt the pro-life side. The lack of any outrage over this effort by powerful American corporations to interfere in a foreign election to remove legal protections for human life should be noted any time anyone suggests that corporations aren’t legal “persons” or that they are forces for social good. This is the kind of thing that the Holy Father is referring to when he speaks of “ideological colonialism”.

There is little that American pro-lifers can do to impact this election, since Irish law bans foreign money from their political campaigns. Of course, that’s only because we respect the law, and it hasn’t stopped pro-abortion groups like Amnesty International from pouring money in.

But we can and should certainly pray for wisdom for the Irish voters, that they will uphold their nation’s honorable and admirable protection for all human lives. Since the vote is on the 25th, perhaps people could join me in praying a special Novena to Our Lady of Knock, the Queen of Ireland, beginning on May 17th. Here is the prayer:

Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, you gave hope to your people in a time of distress and comforted them in sorrow. You have inspired countless pilgrims to pray with confidence to your divine Son, remembering His promise, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find”. Help me to remember that we are all pilgrims on the road to Heaven. Fill me with love and concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who live with me. Comfort me when I am sick, lonely or depressed. Teach me how to take part ever more reverently in the Holy Mass. Give me a greater love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Pray for me now and at the end of my death. Amen.

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